How to make a successful career change at 40 and beyond

By leahlambart
8 April 2020
40 and beyond

There are many reasons you might be thinking about a career change — stress, boredom or lack of flexibility, to name a few. Embarking on a career change at any age can feel exciting and daunting, but armed with the right knowledge and tools, you can make a successful transition.

At Relaunch Me, we believe that everyone can find meaningful and rewarding work, whether you are a recent school leaver or heading towards retirement. We specialise in helping people find their ‘best fit’ careers and then provide the support, tools and resources to ensure that they present to the job market with confidence.

We recently spoke with Noble Oak to share our expert advice on how to make a successful career change at 40 and beyond.

Our Top 3 tips for making a career change: 

1. Overcome your Fears

For many people stuck in jobs they dislike, it is fear that is preventing them from taking action. There are many fears associated with career change — the fear of the unknown, the fear of rejection, the fear of a financial hit, the fear of loss of status, the fear of making a mistake, and the fear of what others may think.

These are real fears, but they need to be overcome before you can take the necessary steps to make a career change. Speaking to a career coach, life coach, mentor, or experienced career changer can help you both acknowledge and address these fears so you can start moving in the right direction.

2. Complete a skills, values and strengths assessment

Before you go out to market, you need to be able to identify, understand and articulate your key transferable skills and how you can apply them to your ideal role or industry. Just because you are starting out with a new career it doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch. Very often we have skills that we have gained in our previous jobs and from life itself that will stand us in good stead in a new career.

Likewise, you need to be able to articulate your strengths, bearing in mind that these are two separate things. Skills are things that you have learnt, whilst strengths are things that you are naturally good at. This is a really important exercise to complete before you start talking to people in your new industry and most definitely before you attend any formal interviews.

Brainstorm with a career coach or friend to create a list of your transferable skills, as well as a list of what skills you may need to develop further before you start applying for a different role. Also, get really clear on what comes naturally to you, what do you get feedback about and when do you feel that you are doing work that comes easily?

Another crucial step is to get clear on what is most important to you at this particular time. Our values often change as we get older, particularly after we have a family. What was so important in your 20s may be vastly different from what is important in your 40s, 50s or 60s. By completing a values-assessment you can then map out what factors are critical to your next role, whether that be a high income, meaningful work, status, work/life balance, creativity, flexibility or managing people.

3. Get Networking

Research suggests that over 80% of jobs are filled through relationships and referrals rather than being advertised. This rate is even higher for those who are returning to work on a part-time basis or after an extended career break.

You need to brainstorm your networks and tap into them long before you start preparing to return to work. Make a list of your contacts and use LinkedIn or the phone to reach out to them for a coffee. Also, think about the power of your 2nd connections — think of all the people you know and all the people they know. They say that most people know about 150 contacts, so by tapping into your 2nd-degree network, your contacts are suddenly equal to 150 squared or 22,500 people in your network!

Get out of the house and talk to people about what they do and what you are interested in and good at doing. This will build your networks and your confidence as you get into the habit of talking about yourself again in a business sense.

The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Making a Career Change

1. Reverting to traditional job search methods

The most common mistake we see is people reverting to traditional job search methods i.e. passive job search methods, which mostly involve responding to advertised roles on job boards. This is the default position for most people as this is all they have ever known. However, traditional job search methods rarely work for career changers or those returning to work after an extended break.

Recruiters and hiring managers are engaged by either their external or internal clients to follow a certain brief, and this rarely involves selecting a candidate from a completely different job function and/or industry, or choosing someone who hasn’t worked for a decade. It would only be a very small minority of recruiters that would have the sort of relationship with a client to convince them that they should see someone who barely meets any of the criteria on the job brief. Therefore, recruiters and hiring managers will usually go for the closest fit and reduce the risk of making a bad hire.

Unfortunately, this is not good news for the career changer or the career relauncher, which is why I tell my clients to avoid applying to advertised roles altogether (unless they have an internal contact who can put a good word in for them). Career changers need to do things differently. They need to use active job search strategies and that involves ‘looking for people, not jobs’. Ideally, you want to get in front of people before they even see your resume, and this requires a completely different approach to job search.

2. Not doing the research

A successful career change requires thorough research to ensure that you make an informed decision. Too often career changers enrol in expensive postgraduate courses without doing the appropriate research to ensure that they will actually enjoy working in the field on completion of the course. I advise researching the career outcomes first and then working backwards to work out what course you need to do. In many cases, a career change may actually be possible without doing further study.

I recently worked with a client in the healthcare field who was just about to enrol in a very expensive and time-consuming MBA in order to get into a corporate role. However, by employing active job search tactics he was able to secure a dream role within corporate on a higher salary than his original role without any study at all.

3. Having a poor resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile

It is really imperative for a career changer to have a compelling resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile. If you haven’t applied for a role for some time, then it pays to have a career coach or a recruiter provide you with feedback in regard to whether your documents would be considered best practice.

Resumes have changed significantly in the past decade and are now more like a marketing document than a list of everything that you have ever done. Likewise, it is really important for a career changer to have a compelling online profile, particularly if they are using LinkedIn as part of their active job search strategy. It pays to put the time and effort into getting these documents right before you even start your job search.

How hard is it to upskill these days?

Upskilling is much easier than it used to be as we now have access to online courses, many of which are free or inexpensive. These courses may not be sufficient to warrant a career change that requires a further formal qualification, but they can definitely facilitate a career change where additional skills or a short course is all that is required.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a fantastic resource for career changers to upskill whilst also getting a ‘taste’ for the content of a new area before committing to expensive long-term courses. MOOC’s websites such as Udemy, Alison, Coursera and Futurelearn all provide a plethora of opportunity to upskill in different areas whether they be technical, software or ‘soft’ skills such as customer service, negotiation, conflict resolution, communication or sales skills.

For more expert advice on how to plan for a successful career transition, take a look at the full article on the Noble Oak website.

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